AUBURN — A U.S. senator visited Auburn Friday to honor heroism from 75 years ago.

Sen. Todd Young presented Sandra Dillinger with medals her father, Robert Egli, earned by serving with an elite U.S. Army unit during World War II.

Egli fought behind enemy Japanese lines during 1944 and 1945 as part of the 138-member Alamo Scouts.

“They were kind of like the Navy Seals of today,” Dilllinger said.

She received her father’s prestigious Bronze Star and other medals during a gathering at Sandra D’s, an Auburn restaurant she operates with her husband, Bentley. Relatives and friends watched.

According to official Army history, the Alamo Scouts were named for the defenders of the Alamo in Texas. They trained in amphibious reconnaissance, jungle warfare and clandestine operations behind enemy lines.

Out of several hundred candidates for the unit, only 138 were selected as Alamo Scouts in early 1944. The Alamo Scouts performed 110 known missions behind enemy lines, mainly in New Guinea and the Philippines, without losing a single man.

The unit is best known for its role in liberating American prisoners of war from the Japanese Cabanatuan POW camp in the Philippines in January 1945.

Young said his research showed American officers feared the Japanese would execute the prisoners as U.S. troops approached.

Egli’s unit rescued 511 American prisoners, Young said.

“Now they have kids and grandkids,” he said, because of “a beautiful act of love and courage, patriotism and sacrifice, bravery. Your dad was part of it.”

Every enlisted man in the Alamo Scouts was awarded a Bronze Star for heroic service, heroic achievement and meritorious achievement in a combat zone, Young said.

Tears appeared on Dillinger’s cheek as Young described her father’s heroism.

After handing her the Bronze Star, Young told Dillinger, “I was choking up when I gave that to you, so why don’t you give me a hug?”

Dillinger described her father as “a very quiet man — very quiet about his service.”

She recalled two stories he told her about his Army days.

Once during Alamo Scouts training, her father, who weighed 130 pounds, was swimming to shore carrying a 60-pound radio, and he had to abandon it because he was sinking. She said he was court-martialed and had to repeat his training.

Another time, in his foxhole, he was grabbed by his hair and feared it was an attacker. He screamed, only to find it was a large land crab.

“I didn’t hear any of the other stories, much,” she said. “It was just the fun things, if you can call that fun.”

Egli kept silent because he actions of the Alamo Scouts were “very top-secret until 1995, and he had already passed,” she said. Her father died in 1985.

Dillinger keeps a photo of her father in his Army uniform on a mantle inside the restaurant. Recently, two Army Rangers from Idaho who were dining there took an interest in the photo. She told them that several of her father’s medals were missing. After leaving the restaurant, they contacted Young’s office, leading to Friday’s ceremony.

Young told Dillinger that Friday’s presentation “is going to be the highlight of my day, my week and month.”

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